Untitled - Miami
Untitled – Miami

People make mistakes, that’s a given, but it’s also an occasion for people learn from others mistakes so that they don’t have to. Here’s 5 blunders I made when starting photography that might be useful to you.
(In no particular order)
1) Thinking the money was going to be easy
After picking up the camera and developed my photographic sense, it came to me that I could make money from this easy: Put up your website and get money. This idea was strengthen by photography books, courses and websites that have an overenthusiastic, simplistic view of photography business. It’s not easy, everybody wants to do it and I am still paying biterly for my foolishness to this day. Business is hard and competitive, jumping in cold turkey is foolish, and not everybody makes it….you never hear about those do you? By the way have you noticed how many of these photographic prosperity advocates actually make money with their camera and not their teaching?
Lesson learned: Making it requires time and hard work, be enthusiast not foolish, don’t quit your day job.
Remedial: Pray, read business books like kool aid, network and PLAN ahead.
2) Getting a DSLR
This goes against the grain, I know… but if I could I would swap my DSLR with a Manual point and shoot as my camera. The reason for this is that the camera boosted my ego, not my eye, and to tell you the truth my first camera was an impulse buy. That DSLR made me too dependent upon it, I believed I was a photographer because of it, not because I could do something with it. Before I bought it it’s like I could not be a photographer without it, when I did it’s as if I could finally be a photographer….nonsense but that’s how I felt back then. I spent too much time dreaming of what I could do with the camera and not enough actually learning something. I’d like to tell my younger self: It’s all about the image stupid!
Lesson learned: A piano does not make you a pianist, a camera does not make you a photographer.
Remedial: My main camera is a wimpy P&S!!!
3) Relying on large apertures
When I first heard of aperture priority I felt like I stumbled on the secret of photography: The shallow depth of field. It’s like I could tackle everything because I could put my lens at 1.8. I made the same types of pictures over and over again and never learned anything because my lens was stuck on 1.8. I even believed I was a pro because I understood how aperture priority works. Imagine my surprise when a teacher friend told me that photos were “coming along”…Nice way to put it because most of my stuff were simplistic frames at 1.8: A tree, a bird, etc.
Lesson learned: Blurry backgrounds…big deal…move on.
Remedial: Stopped thinking “1.8 and shoot” and focused on making the subject and background fit meaningfully in the frame.
4) Overestimation
As you can guess, having a pro looking camera that can blur backgrounds stroke my ego. I grossly overestimated my skills and that resulted in stagnation, I didn’t move forward at all. Photography is a life long journey, but I stopped in the first few steps because I believed I was really good. Having a few incredible, sporadic shots stroked my ego to the max, they rendered me unteachable. No one is more closed than the one who believes that they know everything. I was ignorant, I believed I was a pro. I was a fool.
Lesson learned: You don’t know everything, always be teachable, photography is a journey.
Remedial: I’m a dedicated life long learner
5) Being too stiff
When I just started everything had to be sharp, sharp, sharp and everything in the frame had to be spot on. My pictures were too focused on the superficial and not the soul of the photograph. I had a very specific idea of what photography was and I did not budge from it. I use to cringe at soft photographs and especially blown highlights. A good thing for me was looking at famous photographs. The most famous photographs are far from being technically perfect and are loose in their framing…they have soul and character more than form. Form is just one part of the photograph just like your body is just one part of you.
Lesson leaned: Stop focusing on how the photograph looks and more on it’s soul, it’s character…how it makes you feel.
Remedial: Stopped focus peeping, highlight peeping, pixel peeping

Join the conversation


  1. Hi Olivier,
    Comments you make in your blog are always very inspiring. Thank you.
    1. The most famous photographs are far from being technically perfect
    and are loose in their framing… they have soul and character more than
    This one reminds me of a very famous Japanese photographer who did his
    exhibition at Tate Modern in London recently. It took me more than a
    decade to become able to understand his “Are” “Bure” “Bokeh” style πŸ™‚
    2. A piano does not make you a pianist, a camera does not make you a
    That’s true. Like a Stradivarius does not make you a great violinist, a
    Leica does not make you a great photographer (but it somehow makes you
    feel as if you are a great photographer with it. The price for the
    enigmatic power of the brand must be included in its product price.
    Don’t ask me how much : )
    3. Photography is a life long journey
    Yes. Indeed. This comment made me think hard … So how much time left for me?
    It could be not much unfortunately >- -<
    Conclusion: Please write a book for amateurs. The title could be "Street
    Photography for DUMMIES"

    1. Thanks for your comments Atsushi!
      If you say anything about Leica….be ready to get some hate mail πŸ™‚
      My ebook about design principles for photography will be released periodically in an emagazine hopefully in February, stay tuned!

      1. Hi Olivier,
        Thank you for your advice. I have not got any “hate mail” yet fortunately : ). As you may remember I have actually used it (I am not making any comment not even using it) and sold 2 M6 and 1 MP with M lenses sometime ago.
        Not just its price I didn’t like its finder (I know there are many people who use it because they like its finder) I have used “F”, F2″ (my favorite), “F3” when I was young and feel more comfortable with 100% VF of those.
        This is the case for DSLR also. I still don’t mind the weight and size of 5DII or 5DIII yet. You are far ahead of me. I use E-M5 also (I don’t have a NEX-7) but its drawback is its tiny finder ! Technically you have to shoot based on “a created past image” also with a mirrorless. Having said that it seems that mirrorless camera makers are confident that they can fix that challenge one day.
        Another challenge of a small camera for me is that it is more difficult to handle occasionally. For me even E-M5 is smaller than necessary.
        Sorry for mixing things up. As you wanted comments from professionals I am making a comment on your recent E-M5 / NEX-7 article here which I read with great interests.
        Having mentioned its negative side of a small camera I think I would like to use NEX-7 one day. E-M5 is also pretty well made. Olympus lens line up and their qualities are not bad.
        However X series camera of Fujifilm are more difficult to discuss. Their lenses are fine but AF and some other things are still behind from Olympus or Panasonic. People who are positive with X are I think professionals who don’t use AF like you.
        Best regards

  2. Hi Olivier,
    agree with your comments. Well, except first one – only because I do not aim to earn any money from my photographs.
    Getting a DSLR: I bought mine in 2007, and after 2 weeks I thought I`m the god of photography. How mistaken was I…
    Relying on large apertures: my 50mm was 1.4! So shallow depth of field. Wow! it was something! I loved it! And of course “A” mode πŸ™‚
    Overestimation: that time, i had one book only – something like photography for beginners. And thought that majority of shots i took, were great. Fool, fool, fool…
    Being too stiff: sharpness! the key to success! I deleted so many photographs; good ones but bit out of focus…Not to forget the noise – any noise was bad thing…
    Still end of last year I bought new lenses for my DLSR.
    But then I`ve discovered street photography, Invisible Ph t grapher Asia, Eric Kim, your blog, heard about Daido Moriyama, HCB, and other great masters.
    Now – also because of you – I own GRD4. It took my style (well, at least something which can turn into style some day) in completely other direction. And I think I`ve found A REASON to take photographs. I`m I still looking into gear? Well, yes. I bought spare battery, and sooner or later will get viefinder. Thats all.
    But now I spend my money and time on albums and exhibitions (now in Singapore we have Inside Out, with Aue Sobol`s “I, Tokyo”).
    So I continue my photo journey… wherever it takes me
    best regards

    1. 2 weeks? It took me about a month or so…as soon as I learned the A mode πŸ™‚
      My policy is never delete a picture…especially the technically deficient ones…I have some blurry shots that I may look back to 20 years from now and see something in them. This policy is taking lots of HDD space tough!
      Honored I was part of the decision making! GRD IV is a beautiful camera once you master it it will melt in your hands and you will take it everywhere. Deconstructing albums and exhibitions is the way to learn for sure…get the gear, learn it and forget it.
      Thanks for the great comments Darek, a pleasure!

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